Concerned paragraph:

[Background: a master and his servant (a water tubewell technician) have been living happily for several years. The master owns seven farms spread across a large river. The master "became familiar with this ubiquitous man, who not only accompanied him on his tours of inspection, but morning and night could be found standing on the master bed rewiring the light fixture or in the bathroom poking at the water heater". Now, on this one day, the servant has hesitatingly said this to his master]

[i've redacted the proper nouns for these people's names with "the master" and "the servant" to avoid confusion]

“Sir, as you know, your lands stretch from here to the Indus, and on these lands are fully seventeen tube wells, and to tend these seventeen tube wells there is but one man, me, your servant. In your service I have earned these gray hairs”—here he bowed his head to show the gray—“and now I cannot fulfill my duties as I should. Enough, sir, enough. I beg you, forgive me my weakness. Better a darkened house and proud hunger within than disgrace in the light of day. Release me, I ask you, I beg you.”

Question asked related to this quote

The servant's comments primarily serve to:

  1. flatter the master by mentioning how vast his lands are.

  2. boast to the master about how competent and reliable the servant is.

  3. emphasize the servant's diligence and loyalty to his master.

  4. notify the master that the servant intends to quit his job tending the tube wells.

My question:

Notice the lines of the paragraph: "now I cannot fulfill my duties as I should" and "Release me". Don't they clearly indicate that the servant intends to quit his job? Hence, option 4 should clearly be correct.

However, option 3 has been given as correct by KhanAcademy, saying that option 4 is incorrect because "The servant doesn’t say he intends to quit his job, asking instead only for help doing it"

So, my question is:

Isn't the above a clear example of misinterpretation of the paragraph by KA?

All options with KhanAcademy's explanations - for reference

  1. Even though it initially highlights the vastness of the master’s lands, it primarily focuses on the servant’s dedication and service to the master.

  2. This emphasizes not that the servant is competent and reliable but that the servant feels he is no longer able to adequately fulfill his duties.

  3. The main purpose of the servant’s comments is to highlight the labor and service he has provided for the master over the years. the servant says “there is but one man, me, your servant” to take care of the tube wells on all the master’s vast lands and that the extensive work has resulted in the servant earning gray hairs on his employer’s behalf.

  4. The servant doesn’t say he intends to quit his job, asking instead only for help doing it.

  • 4
    Voting to close. To answer this question about a test question and the test-writer's understanding of the passage requires nuanced knowledge of a society's culture and its norms relating to work practices. Knowledge of English alone won't suffice. For that reason the question is off-topic. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 24 '17 at 12:05
  • The Khan Academy's questions are routinely of poor quality, IMO, and we shouldn't be asked to critique the test-writer. Focus your questions on the doubts you have about the language of the passage, or on the doubts you have about the language of the summaries. The test-writer's good or poor judgment are not our concern here. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 24 '17 at 12:12
  • 1
    @Tᴚoɯɐuo Agreed. It's a dismal question. The servant's comments cover both 3 and 4, with a great deal of subtext that you could interpret in almost any way. – Andrew Sep 25 '17 at 5:13
  • This is a poor question; for what it's worth, as a native English speaker my opinion agrees with yours. The clear implication is that the servant wants to quit - though this is not quite the same as 'intends' as per option 4. Also I have no idea what a 'tube well' is. – peterG Sep 25 '17 at 22:18

To answer properly, we might need to know more about what society the master and servant live in and what the legal, cultural and societal conventions are concerning when and how a servant may quit his job.

Normally in English we don't beg to be released. That suggests that he might feel the obligation to stay if our request is denied. If this is the case then 4 isn't quite right.

Still, at first glance it sounded to me like he would like to leave and is trying to find a respectful way of saying so. However, note the servant's statement that he will live in deep poverty if he leaves:

Forgive me my weakness. Better a darkened house and proud hunger within than disgrace in the light of day.

Bearing that in mind, you could certainly see his statement as implicitly asking his master to let him stay but with fewer duties. Sometimes an offer to leave or to resign is given as a matter of form or politeness or as an indirect request for something else. He is hoping for an answer along the lines of: "There is no way I could allow you to suffer after so many years of service. Stay here with me, and I will ensure the burden of your work is alleviated."

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